A different world from Hartford’s City heyday
The Manchester City of today bears little relation to the club or team that Asa Hartford knew in the mid-1970s.
The Blues were, like today, indisputably one of England’s top sides, but the overseas player invasion was still a few years away when the Scotland international helped them win the League Cup in 1976 and finish runners-up in Division One, just one point behind Liverpool, the following season.
Hartford was one of two Scots in the City team that beat Newcastle 2-1 at Wembley, and the remaining 10 players on duty, plus manager Tony Book, were all English – four of them born in Manchester and three more from Lancashire or Cheshire.
As two of his former clubs meet in tomorrow’s Premier League fixture at the Etihad Stadium, Hartford – the Milk Cup match-winner for Norwich City in another Wembley final in 1985 – admits it is a totally different world from the one he inhabited in two spells with the former Maine Road club.
Multi-million pound spenders Manchester City, who were last English champions in 1968, go into their clash with the Canaries with a five-point lead at the top of the table and a 100 per cent home record. Last season’s FA Cup triumph, the first since 1969, and qualification for the Champions League have helped put the club back among the front-runners again, with an array of global stars like David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli blending in with their eight England internationals on the pitch and on the bench.
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“You wouldn’t think it could happen again like Arsenal when they went through the whole season unbeaten, but when you have a squad like that you can change a whole team,” said Hartford.
“The other night in the Carling Cup at Arsenal they had Aguero on the bench and Tevez, who they spent more than �20m on, not even involved, it’s amazing.
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“I don’t know if I’m totally at ease about being able to do that – buy success.
“But the more long-suffering supporters don’t care – they want to see them winning things.”
Hartford admits that the club may have lost a bit of its identity
“When I went there in the 70s, I knew everybody at the club, the ground staff, the office staff. Now when I have been back I don’t know very many – how many people are on the payroll, I just couldn’t say.”
Hartford, 61, who now scouts for Birmingham – he lost his junior coaching role at Accrington Stanley five weeks ago as part of club cutbacks – has been suitably impressed with another City.
“I’ve watched probably more of Manchester City but I think Norwich have done better than most people reasonably expected,” he said.
“Paul Lambert has done a fantastic job and he seems like a good guy. I’ve only spoken to him a few times but I have great respect for what he’s done as a player and as a manager.
“It’s refreshing to see the players he has brought in, too, and for them, going to some of these marvellous stadiums and playing in front of 50,000 people, well, anyone worth his salt would raise his game.”
Hartford’s own spell at Carrow Road, in 1984-85, was a bitter-sweet experience, bringing Milk Cup joy against Sunderland but the bitter blow of relegation from Division One nine weeks later. He played 40 first team games, scoring five times, including the Wembley winner that flew in via defender Gordon Chisholm.
“I was at Norwich only a short time but I loved my time there,” he recalled. “But with what happened after winning the Milk Cup, getting relegated and then the Heysel disaster meaning we couldn’t play in Europe, it affected my contract situation. I was on a month-to-month deal and Ken Brown only offered me the same again for the next season. I felt I deserved a one-year contract so I moved on.
“There were no hard feelings. I can understand Ken’s position – I liked Ken and Mel Machin, who was coach, and later managed Manchester City.”
Hartford, who won 50 Scotland caps and played in the World Cup finals in 1978 and 1982, was one of several members of that Maine Road team of the 70s to eventually find his way to Norwich – Joe Royle was another – and he is still in contact with most of them.
“I went to the Leeds-Barnsley game and saw Willie Donachie and Joe Corrigan, who even had a spell on loan at Norwich – the first time I’d seen them in a year or so,” he said. “I’ve known Aage Hareide, who is manager at Stavanger, for years.
“And Mick Channon keeps inviting me down to his stables. He says he’ll put me up in one of his horseboxes, so he hasn’t changed!”
• HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR AGENTS
It does the heart good to know that in these days of financial crisis, mass unemployment and a national strike over pensions, at least one happy band can look forward to a merry Christmas and a prosperous and potentially very profitable New Year.
I refer, of course, to the football agents, those great philanthropists who work so hard to secure big sums of money to put into the pockets of players and managers and, of course, a nice healthy cut for their own pockets at the same time.
On Wednesday, the Premier League published figures that showed that in the 12 months from October 1, 2010, to September 30, 2011, the 20 top-flight clubs paid agents a total of �72m.
It is a small crumb of comfort to know that Norwich City’s contribution, at �710,251, amounted to only one per cent of the Premier League total, whereas tomorrow’s opponents, Manchester City, were the biggest spenders on agents with �9.66m.
I just hope the postman and paper boy don’t sign up with an agent before Christmas . . .